Dabbler Soup – What would Rabbie drink?

On the eve of Burns Night (25 January), this question is on the lips of the nation.

After all; Scots, honorary Scots and wannabe Scots (and who doesn’t?) all gather on this night to eat haggis, recite his poems (badly) and drink whisky. And so we need to know, just in case the great man himself drops by for a drop: what would Rabbie drink?

Well, leaving aside the thought that as a working-class lad from the west of Scotland today’s honest answer is probably ‘vodka’, he did leave us some hints in his work.

He does mention whisky from Kilbagie – but he wasn’t impressed. The distillery has long since closed but, in its day, it was one of the largest in Scotland though producing mainly spirit for export to England where it was rectified (re-distilled and flavoured) as gin. Drunk straight from the Kilbagie stills, as would have been the case, he describes it as “a most rascally liquor”. I doubt we’d be impressed.

Burns’ great poem Scotch Drink laments the loss of Ferintosh whisky. This was altogether a different matter – a quality product available at a lower cost than many of its competitors due to an unusual and generous tax concession.

Because Ferintosh’s proprietor Duncan Forbes supported the Hanoverian government against the Jacobites (Bonnie Prince Charlie’s mob) he found his distillery burnt down by them. So, in return for his loyalty, the government gave him the right to distil the product of his extensive estates free of tax. Eventually in 1794 they had to buy him out, at the staggering cost of £20,000. Who says out of control public expenditure is a new thing?

Today the nearest distilleries to Ferintosh would be Dalmore, Glenmorangie or Balblair. You won’t go wrong with a glass of any of these as you toast “the immortal memory” and remember, in the words of the poet,

“Whisky and freedom gang the’gither.”

Wherever you eat your haggis and however you drink your whisky – Slainte!

Ian Buxton is one of the UK’s leading drinks writers, specialising in whisky and spirits, and is the author of the bestselling book 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die.
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12 thoughts on “Dabbler Soup – What would Rabbie drink?

  1. Brit
    January 24, 2011 at 10:03

    Is it a truism that you have to be Scottish to appreciate Burns?

    How can “Solomon’s Proverbs, xxxi. 6, 7.” be a line of poetry? And that’s the only line I really understand.

    Of course you certainly don’t have to be Scottish to enjoy scotch drink, just ‘Scotch Drink’.

  2. Gaw
    January 24, 2011 at 13:58

    I have no idea how the Scots enjoy Burns. Once he’s translated I pick up a sort of boorish jocularity. He seems such a huge fan of exclamation marks we should be glad he wrote before the advent of smiley face punctuation.

    • Brit
      January 24, 2011 at 15:39

      It’s a pity he didn’t write more about The Silv’ry Tay

  3. law@mhbref.com'
    jonathan law
    January 24, 2011 at 15:00

    Did you know there’s now a version of Wikipedia in Scots?

    Here, for example, is the entry on Burns.

    And here is a quite splendid piece about the Single European Currency. (“Acause o some bilateral greements, the European microstates o Monaco, San Marino, an Vatican Ceety mint their ain euro cunyies on behauf o the European Central Baunk. They is, houaniver, severely limitit in the tot vailie o cunyies they can issue.”)

    • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
      January 24, 2011 at 15:35

      What a terrific discovery, JL!

      The EU page is good, too.

      “The Union was pitten thegither for cultural an economic ettles […] Croatie will like jyne the EU in 2009, Macedonie was makkit a candidate kintra in 2006, an Turkey haes been a canidate kintra in 1999 altho thay didna corrieneuch till 2005.”


  4. info@shopcurious.com'
    January 24, 2011 at 21:26

    A curious fact is that Robert Burns was the fitst ever person to appear on a commemorative bottle of Coca-Cola in 2009 (courtesy of the first official Robert Burns iPhone app).

  5. ian@brollachan.com'
    Ian Buxton
    January 25, 2011 at 09:27

    So now we know what they think he’d drink. And not even Irn Bru!

  6. gindrinkers@ooglemail.com'
    January 25, 2011 at 10:19

    Surely as a working class Scottish lad he’d have been drinking Buckfast rather than vodka? Glenmorangie for me, though.

  7. ian@brollachan.com'
    Ian Buxton
    January 25, 2011 at 10:29

    Nah, “Buckie” is for your old-school, hard-core Glasgae alchies.

    Burns – being Jack-the-Lad – would have fancied a quick Smirnoff. And, being something of a ladies man (12 or 13 bairns by 5 different lassies – Premier League standard there, I think) he would have a wanted a more ‘stylish’ and faster-acting leg-opener than Buckie.

  8. Brit
    January 25, 2011 at 10:36

    I went on a week’s summer camp to Buckfast Abbey as a boy. Nice place, nobody was drinking the stuff, I suppose they just send it all straight to Glasgow. I do remember there was a kid kicked out for shoplifting from the abbey gift shop. Even at that age we had a fair idea that stealing from monks was pretty low.

  9. ian@brollachan.com'
    Ian Buxton
    January 25, 2011 at 10:38

    French, was he?

  10. Brit
    January 25, 2011 at 10:53

    Just because that’s an outrageous bit of national stereotyping doesn’t mean it’s not true. When the brightly-coloured backpacks hove into view, lock up your tat.

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